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Plans for gun club site hit a roadblock

The gun club project is once again in jeopardy.

Benderson Development Co. executives campaigned for years to get the Amherst Town Board's approval for a $44 million "lifestyle center," promising a one-of-a-kind mix of boutique and specialty retailers, restaurants and condominiums.

They enjoyed a hard-won victory in early June when the board voted, 4-3, to rezone the old Buffalo Shooting Club property on Maple Road to allow the Amherst Town Centre project to proceed.

But when Benderson submitted site plans to the town's Planning Department that placed a new movie theater complex and four-level parking garage on the property, five of the seven Town Board members made it clear the company had overplayed its hand.

"They've shown that they are really not out to do what they promised," said Supervisor Satish Mohan, who added that he is now suspicious of Benderson's intentions.

He and Deputy Supervisor Shelly Schratz joined forces with three other longtime project opponents Monday to state that they no longer support general business zoning for the Benderson project and want to see it rezoned to a less-commercial "traditional neighborhood district."

That could essentially unravel Benderson's entire project.

"This obviously came as a great surprise and a shock to us that there would be this kind of reaction," said Benderson Vice President Eric Recoon. "Now that there's been this kind of reaction, we want to work it through."

Council members who support "down-zoning" the project said Benderson broke any sense of common purpose when it redesignated a 50,000-square-foot "specialty retail" building on the property as a 1,960-seat theater without getting board input.

"When I found out what was proposed, I was absolutely appalled," said Schratz, who now plans to submit a new resolution changing the project's zoning.

Recoon said deed restrictions for the property do not forbid a theater. He added that Benderson has no theater deal in place but believes a unique, boutique theater -- as opposed to a traditional megaplex -- would be an asset.

Jeffery Palumbo, a lawyer representing Benderson, informed the Town Board on Monday night that the developer was withdrawing the site plan it had submitted for Planning Board consideration because of concerns raised by the Planning Department and by members of the board.

But some board members interpreted this move as a way to skirt further Town Board oversight and scrutiny.

Mohan added, "They thought we will just grumble, murmur and keep quiet."

Schratz, Mohan and Council Members Daniel Ward, Deborah Bruch Bucki and Manna tried to approve a resolution initiating the rezoning process Monday.

Because of Town Board rules, a resolution to down-zone the project cannot be considered until the board's next regular board meeting in two weeks.


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